I had the way to approach Jonathan Raddatz Art. He’s an artist living in Quebec (Canada). Through web we had interesting ideas exchanges about art and its future (some suggestions will be the arguments for one of my next posts). Jonathan loves to paint as self-expression. His aims “are anchored in a desire to work out theological and philosophical concerns in peace and quiet, away from the mindless consumption and selfish concerns that consume us all on a daily basis”. I invite you to have a look at his artgallery in Verdun-Montreal (Quebec, Canada) and at his web GALERIE EX-NIHILO: you’ll be struck by a talented artist who tells us the power, the energy and the mystery of colors and materials. I’ve asked Jonathan Raddatz to write something about his artistic statement. He send me an articulated and profound reflection that I’m very glad to share here.
“Faith and Myth are the key operative terms that fuel my work”
by Jonathan E. Raddatz
There is a facet of my art that can safely be qualified as ‘Expressionist Realism’ (landscapes, cityscapes from my corner or the world and so forth). This work is all about technical rigor and self-discipline. It is about taming the beast and conscientiously applying myself to duplicating what I see concretely before my eyes. When I work in this fashion, I will often carve out the lines in my motif, while stressing the surface with fire and grindstone; this is why I gravitate to wood as a surface medium for these pieces. I have a great affection for two places in particular, and these
are the primary subjects for what I like to call my moments of relative composure: My neighborhood, St-Henri, for its history, the riot of colours, because everything sags and because the light here reverberates in a very particular way; and Parry Sound, Ontario, where the Canadian Shield crashes into the Georgian Bay and where I spent many happy moments as a child. These are all places where the rhythm of the land…our land, strikes a deep spiritual chord with me. This work is largely free of intellectual baggage in the sense that the whole process exists to ‘take a holiday’ from my brain. When I paint ‘the little things’, it is usually to come up for air, to breathe life and clarity into my lungs and convey singular instants of beauty, often found in the mundane.
Today’s deconstructionists propose that all categories of art are arbitrary and sight is a pleasure. If this is true then art should break the rules of this most unfortunate modern convention of ‘super flat’ sensory indulgence by exploring, in pragmatic terms, the predatory nature of the senses and how these are linked to the ‘human condition’, which we might as well come right out and qualify as the ‘despotic condition’.
Now, while our pseudo-egalitarian civilization insists that all art is meaningful (the meaning being: here is someone articulating his/her existence), I argue that only art that successfully conveys its meaning – that is to say, the motive BEHIND asserting ones existence in this manner – is (in my less than humble view) – valid (or ‘true’) art, as art of this nature is, by definition, about marrying function to aesthetic in order to tap into a meaning that points beyond itself. That is why ‘true’ art is not to be confused with ‘decorative’ art. The first points beyond itself and is more akin to the workings of religion and philosophy, the other is purely functional: to please, soothe, or clutter the senses. This statement is not meant to devalue decorative art (at any rate, in art, there is always a carry-over) but rather to make a distinction between painting the subject versus painting what lies beyond the subject.
Thus, my ‘true’ artistic enterprise is not to be contained or otherwise pigeon-holed by relativist labels such as ‘abstract’ or ‘contemporary neo-symbolism’ or other such nonsensical terms that seek to rationalize that which does not seek to be experienced in a rational manner. Nor is this enterprise going to satisfy itself by becoming predictable in technique and style. I leave that to the post-Warhol stylists. The name of my game is SUBJECT MATTER.
To quote Rothko directly: ‘there is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. We assert that subject is crucial and only that subject matter which is tragic and timeless is valid. That is why we profess a spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art.’ My abstract (or otherwise metaphorical) art is profoundly anti-rational. This is fitting since good art, like good propaganda, is precisely that because it circumvents reason completely. The only rational act I imbibe in my pieces is the act of giving them a title, which is done before the business of painting and after much contemplation in regards to the piece about to be painted.
Faith and Myth are the key operative terms that fuel my work. Any talk of faith must abandon all pretence of objectivity, which makes art a useful vehicle to explore these questions, as art, while pretending to be a lot of things, at least does not pretend to be objective. Anything objective processed by humans ceases to be such the moment we contemplate it, and this is most likely due to our inherently dualistic nature, which is understood to be fallible in every sense of the term. Hence, notions of human depravity, faith and salvation can only be discussed subjectively while remaining objective concepts in and of themselves. Their truth permeates human existence but is often ungraspable by the temporal senses and even less so by language, with all it’s cultural bias. And so, we are left with symbols, which defy logic and transcend reason by their ability to sustain paradox; this is why my art emphasizes the symbolic. Faith is a mythical language, expressing ideas that defy scientific materialism.
Although abstract, symbols are the Rosetta Stone of faith. Through this endeavour I am sharing an irrational reality felt most keenly during the creative process. This grand realm is made of a mythical causality of numinous yet fleshy themes that fully transcend moral and scientific relativism. I’m talking here about theodicy, defilement and variants on sacrifice. This mythical causality is what Rothko refers to when he speaks of timeless tragedy as the agent that binds humans to their cause and condition. And so I ask, what is the cosmic variable responsible for this timeless tragedy?
I am ceaselessly amazed when I encounter the increasingly pervasive, dangerously optimistic view of the human condition that is currently fashionable in the west. The kind of hype (‘yes we can!’) that utterly ignores the unprecedented level of violence and depravity played out during the course of the previous century and showing no signs of waning in the opening decade of the current one.
Warm, fuzzy pseudo-messianic utopias of this type (history offers countless examples), require that we ignore the machinations of human history as it actually plays out. This history does not exactly reinforce the utopic view that humans can all miraculously come together in some sort of global group hug and resolve our problems by our own efforts or accord, most particularly in a degraded environment of want, where resources are dwindling while populations explode. History tells us that under these conditions, humans go to war and rip each other to pieces over the meager spoils.
Trying to ‘Disneyfy’ this reality into something more palatable is adolescent naiveté at its worst and if it continues unchecked in our times, it will be the end of this civilization. ‘Art’ states Bergson, ‘brings us into our own presence’, while St-Theresa of Avila said: ‘I require only that you look.’
A few words regarding titling…Titling is very relevant to my abstract/metaphorical work, they direct the viewer to the subject. If the pieces where not titled as literary essays, you might not link symbols and subject. Literary references are often present to indicate where the viewer might direct further inquiries. If you want to enjoy the art on your own terms and remain unaffected by my concerns, preserve your ignorance by ignoring my titles. If ‘getting’ the artist’s point is important to you, my titles contain messages that are unlikely to misguide of confuse.
Regarding Materials…The primal notion of spirit being contained in matter plays a significant role in my creative process. Many ingredients of a widely varying nature go into my paintings. My choices of material are often made for technical reasons (the need for texture and so forth), however, the process is anything but superficial. Found objects, metals, melted jewelry, currency, animal and human hair, dirt, compost, brick, stone, blood, sand, insects, bones, ash… All these things and more find their way into or onto my canvas. Sometimes items are ground to a powder or burned for ash, or otherwise preserved in some recognizable form. Sometimes they are meant to be seen and form part of the motif; other times, they remain unseen but are included as a pigment base. More often than not, my choice of ingredients is directly related to the subject or a symbol pertaining to the subject.